A MEMORY FOREVER

About a month ago Aminata came to our hospital with abdominal pain. She had been sick for some time so we treated her as usual for typhoid and malaria, but she did not improve. She had what felt like a mass in her low abdomen so I did an ultrasound and found what I thought was large irregular ovarian cyst.

Whatever it was she was clearly deteriorating and needed an operation despite her weakened condition. At the time of surgery I found a huge pelvic abscess. No ovarian cyst, just lots and lots of pus. I never could identify for sure the source, so I washed her out, put drains in and closed her up. And prayed. Before, during and after the operation. Because often that is what is needed as much or more than the surgery itself.

Now, more than a month later, Aminata is about ready to go home. I closed her wound last week and she is off all her antibiotics. She has been a special patient, she has a ready smile, and a sharp wit. She loves to laugh. She loves to dance, with me. One day she was sitting outside her room on the veranda and when she got up to walk back inside she grabbed my hand and started to dance with me, just to show how much better she was feeling. I must say we were a hit with the rest of her large family, the other patient families and the staff who were around to see it. She has promised me one more dance before she goes home.

Kai-Kai , the little stuffed rodent.

Today she surprised me with a little stuffed rodent of some sort, complete with spectacles (glasses for the younger readers). It is adorable. She told me it was for my office so I would never forget her, as if I ever could. I was moved to tears (well as close as I get to tears anyway). I named the little guy Kai-Kai and he is sitting on my desk in my office and watches over everything I do.

Her gesture was especially meaningful because in 60 days Bekki and I will be making a major change in our lives. We are leaving Africa and going back to the US on permanent return. (If you don’t want to count it out, it comes to April 22, 2018.) I have taken a job on the faculty of the Physician Assistant School at the Kettering College of Medical Arts, and the next term starts on May 7. I have to be honest I am very excited about this opportunity, it is a career change I have been wanting to make for a long time, and Kettering has a great program and a fantastic staff. Plus, it is a bit like coming full circle as Bekki and lived there in the late 1980’s during my surgical residency. And our son Jonathan was born right next door at Kettering Medical Center.

That being said, there are many things I will miss after we are gone. Things like the absolutely best pineapple in the world (I kid you not), fresh papaya from our own tree, the cashews and groundnuts (peanuts). I will miss the special songs we have in Salone, “Welcome, Welcome, Welcome” and “Tell Poppa God Tenki”, to name a couple of my favorites. The acoustics in the Outpatient Department are amazing and when the staff really get going on a hymn they know well, the music is heavenly. But mostly I will miss the people here. People I have come to know and love and respect.

In fact, the leadership here has asked us to continue to be involved with the hospital, be their US Ambassadors if you will. And Bekki is coming back in May to finish up the building projects she is supervising.
But let’s be honest, there are a lot of things we won’t miss. It has been a hard four plus years for us here in West Africa, we have aged a lot. We have been separated from family and friends. In fact, Bekki and I agree it has been the hardest thing we have ever done in our lives. Are we ready to go home? Yes. Would we do it again, even knowing all we know now? Yes a million times over. Neither of us would trade our time in Africa for anything.

Lindsay, ever the teacher, teaching anatomy to the staff.

Being the melancholy sort, I often wonder how much of an impact I really have made here in Sierra Leone and in Tchad. I know that many of the administrative changes I have made will fall by the wayside after I leave. But this morning Lindsay, our daughter visiting us from Taiwan for Chinese New Years, reminded me of my patients. She reminded me of the privilege I have had for over four years, really over 30 years, of being God’s hands as He has worked through me to bring healing to suffering people.

That is why the simple gift of a stuffed animal touched me so deeply. It is not just Aminata that little Kai-Kai (the stuffed rodent) will remind me of. It will remind me of all the patients that have allowed me to be a part of their lives, in Kettering, in Tillamook, the L-C Valley, Tchad and now Sierra Leone.

Kai-Kai will go home with me on April 22, and will sit on my desk in my office at KCMA, and will remind me of what a special life I have been granted as a physician, surgeon and missionary for Jesus.

For more frequent, up to the minute short updates, please follow us on Instagram or on Facebook, we are Scott N Bekki Gardner.

For those of you who are new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year, and the “Video” page has a video Bekki made of Koza Hospital as well as the videos she has made of Moundou, and now we are adding videos of Sierra Leone. Watch a real Ebola survivor tell his story. Watch our community health officer explain why the staff agreed to work in the Ebola Red Zone even after they lost 2 staff members to Ebola. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. On the Projects and Donations pages you can find the projects we are working on and how to donate to the project that touches your heart. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us.

We (still) welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner

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48 Hours

In about 48 hours we will be headed back home to Moundou. For now we are on the train headed to Paris for a rendez-vous with our newest volunteer, Adrian Sarli. In fact his plane should have just landed at Charles de Gaulle airport.

Before I tell you about our time here in France, I must clarify something I said in the previous blog post. I made the comment that I really didn’t want to have to deal with another container, and although it is true, it is also true that containers are necessary from time to time as we need them to transport large pieces of equipment we cannot get elsewhere. So we will face other container wars in the future. What I neglected to say was how much we appreciate the hard work that goes into packing and sending these containers on the part of the team at Adventist Health International in Loma Linda, and the team from AMALF in France. And they do work very hard at gathering supplies and packing them in such a way to withstand the rigors of ocean and overland transport. So to all of you, from all of us, a huge thank you.

Chateau Chambord in the Loire River Valley

Chateau Chambord in the Loire River Valley

We began our trip with a great week with Lindsay visiting Blois in the Loire River Valley, and then spending several days in Paris with her. It was her first multi-day visit to Paris, so it was a lot of fun showing her around. And she showed us where she got mugged in September, and how she fought back, and pinched the guy hard enough he gave back her wallet and then ran like the wind to get away from this crazy American. I was so proud of her. We had an absolutely beautiful day to visit Versailles and explore parts of it we had never seen. Sabbath we met several of her new friends from Spain, as well as our friends at the Paris International Church. We were also able to give a couple of presentations and do some recruiting of francophone volunteers.
Sitting on the throne (no really) in the throne room in Chateau Blois.

Sitting on the throne (no really) in the throne room in Chateau Blois.

Selfie at Versailles

Selfie at Versailles

Marie Antoinette's Hamlet on the grounds of Versailles.

Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet on the grounds of Versailles.

Wednesday morning we flew to Geneva and went back to work, doing presentations at an Adventist Rehab Center outside Geneva, La Ligniere, as well as at Collonges with the IFLE (French language) students. Finally the last presentation at the Friday night meeting with AMALF (Association Medicale Adventiste de Langue Francais). Really the big purpose of this trip is to strengthen ties with our French speaking church family, and recruit French speaking volunteers.

Lindsay taking a picture of me taking a picture Bekki taking a selfie in front of Notre Dame

Lindsay taking a picture of me taking a picture Bekki taking a selfie in front of Notre Dame

Chateau de Vincennes, the donjon, Palace of Charles V

Chateau de Vincennes, the donjon, Palace of Charles V

Overlooking a beautiful valley in the Rhone Alps region of France

Overlooking a beautiful valley in the Rhone Alps region of France

I have to say it has been absolutely wonderful. Our friends from the Paris International Church, Collonges and AMALF have been so good to us. I am afraid if I start naming names I will leave someone out, but you all know who you are and you are so appreciated. Both Bekki and I have commented on how amazing it is to have the same feelings of home in France like we have in the US with our friends and family there. It is something we never thought we would experience, but we are so blessed to have such an international family. So to our American family (our friends are family too) we send you a huge ginormous thank you for your love and support. A notre famille francaise, nous vous envoyons la reconnaissance geante et enorme pour votre amour et votre soutien.
Song service Friday night at AMALF

Song service Friday night at AMALF

In 48 hours we head back to Tchad. I am happy to report that I am ready to go back and get back to work there. I have come to realize that our ministry takes on many facets that we didn’t anticipate. For example our ministry to the young expatriates in Moundou, not just ours but those working with other missions as well. The ministry of the God pods. We hear them being played all day, every day, the Bible being read in their native tongue. The ministry of the Jesus video that we show in Ngombaye. The ministry of just trying to do as Jesus did and relieve a little of the suffering that we see. And now to start our French library of medical books, health education materials, reading and picture books for our staff and patients. And the ministry of encouraging people in Europe and the US to share Jesus and His love right where they are.

We love and appreciate you all, and look forward to seeing you again soon.

Cathedrale Saint Jean le Baptiste in Lyon, France

Cathedrale Saint Jean le Baptiste in Lyon, France

For those of you new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year, and the “Video” page has a video Bekki made of Koza Hospital as well as the videos she has made of Moundou. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. You will also find links to other missionary blogs such as Olen and Danae Netteburg, Jaime and Tammy Parker and others. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us. For our Francophone friends there is a French translation of our blog that you can find at http://gardnersenafrique.wordpress.com.

We welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner

Lindsay

*Disclaimer: This blog post was not written by Doctor Scott Gardner, M.D., L.M. (Literary Master). Rather the following was written by his daughter Lindsay Gardner, N.T. (No Title)

So I have been in Tchad for about a month. Dad has been hounding me since before I got here to write a blog post. Personally, writing on a public forum terrifies me but this trip is all about new experiences so here goes.

Maybe it is just because I have been hearing about this country constantly for the last four years but the things you would think would be shocking are not at all surprising or difficult for me. Riding on a moto- just like dirt biking and a ton of fun. Shaking everyone’s hand all the time- put it there. Little to no internet-I’ll just find out what’s up with everyone later. Going to bed at 8:00 and waking up with the sun at 6:00- I think I get more sleep here than I did at home. The infamous Imam- I’ve been training for this for years by living next to a train track because I sleep right through him. No, the culture, the dirt, the cold showers, the bug bites, the sweat, the rice-and-red-sauce diet, the running yourself off your feet, the stares, the shouts of “Nassarah, nassarah”, and the taking your life in your hands every time you get on the road, do not bother me, shock me, or make me question my life choices. In fact nothing seemed to phase me, until I stepped back and looked at what I was doing from a distant perspective. That is when I made some realizations.

Lindsay and Bekki ready for church

Lindsay and Bekki ready for church

Let’s look at this whole situation in general: I am working at a mission hospital in Tchad, Africa. For those of you who don’t know, which is basically all of you, I am the least qualified and completely useless person to be working here. I am not medical in the least. I am still in college but I have no aspirations to go into any aspect of the medical field. For Pete’s sake I want to be a high school science teacher! I can think of innumerable things and people this hospital needs and a high school science teacher wannabe is not anywhere on the list. They need someone who can start an IV not describe photosynthesis.

Second, I don’t speak French. I don’t speak any French. After arriving here I learned the term “Ça va” which dad says literally means “It goes” and is the question and answer for everything. Since that is the only French I know I have been using it for everything. I get a lot of weird looks. Particularly when someone runs up to me and frantically rattles a long stretch of French off at me and I just uncertainly say “Ça va?” I have taken up the habit of talking randomly back at people in English when they insist on talking to me in French even after I say multiple times “No French! No French!”

I can’t even cook here. But that is not shocking; I can barely cook at home with all the ingredients and a recipe.

Lindsay helping out with Branch Sabbath  School in Nangere, near Bere

Lindsay helping out with Branch Sabbath School in Nangere, near Bere

Basically this all means that I should not be here. I have absolutely no idea what to do in the hospital. The other volunteers may not be used to African medicine but at least they know what they are looking at. I can’t talk to the staff or the patients. I do not make a good gofer because I don’t know what an 18-French catheter looks like. I am useless at the house because mom can’t leave me alone there. Anyone comes to the house and I can’t help them. I can’t even find out why they are there. And the only food it seems I can sort of make here is rice, which although it is good, it is not a meal. Realization #1, I am useless in Tchad.

Again, let’s look at the situation: I am working at a mission hospital, doing mission hospitally things. Every so often I’ll have a moment when I suddenly realize what I am doing. Some examples: I am currently holding a disembodied leg, I am riding on the back of a motorcycle sans helmet or any form of protective gear and in a dress, my evening entertainment consists almost solely of fly hunting, I am driving an ambulance in a third world country, I have my hand in some guy’s intestines, I walk past an incinerator every day that is burning body parts, I found a dead man. My morning includes pulling gauze out of a man’s scrotum and then shoving clean gauze back in, I am dodging blood splatter, I found a new stain on my clothes and I really don’t want to know where it came from, complete strangers keep proposing to me and they are serious, father-daughter bonding time starts with the phrase “Hey Linds, want to help me drain pus out of an abscess?”. I can’t describe the sensation when it hits me, “Hmm, I am right now… (fill in the blank with your favorite phrase from above)” but the feeling is very, very weird.

Lindsay and Kelsey chilling

Lindsay and Kelsey chilling

The things that I have done and learned to do here are things I would never have even thought about attempting back home. Let me say again, I am not a medical anything but here I am doing dressing changes on every body part (and I mean every single body part both male and female), taking out IVs, helping with physical therapy, helping prep patients for surgery, circulating in the OR, even scrubbing in for operations. Realization #2, Tchad has a lot of “No one will believe this” moments.

Now I would like to address the subject of why I came. I came to Tchad because this is where my parents are. This is where they live, this is where their house is, this is where they work, and eventually this is where all their stuff will be.

It is always tricky when I meet someone because once I let slip that my parents are missionaries in Moundou, Tchad they always look really interested and ask where all I have lived. I know they are expecting the exotic list of locations any ordinary MK (missionary kid) would be able to whip out. I also know the look of disappointment that will suddenly come across their face when all I say is “I grew up in Oregon.” Let’s get this clear, I have never and will never claim to be a missionary kid. I am the daughter of missionaries now but I had an extremely American upbringing.

I will never forget the conversation with my parents that started this all. It was just a regular summer evening two years ago when my parents casually mentioned they were moving. My brother and I had been expecting them to move to the east coast after my grandfather died, because that is where all my mom’s family lives. When we asked which state they had settled on the answer of “Cameroon” was the furthest location in our minds. There was silence for a moment and then I stammered out “Like the country?” Not once in all of our conversations had there ever been a mere mention of a hint about actually moving to a different country. Dad wanted to do longer short-term stints at mission hospitals yes, but he had talked about going one to two months at a time. This was a five-year, packing up and moving out of the continent bombshell. I consider that moment the most shocking of my life.

If you have talked to my parents at all you will know that I was not happy about this decision. And I made that very clear. I did not like the idea of my parents moving half way across the world to work at a mission hospital with all the nasty diseases, infections, parasites, and just plain danger of living in a third world country. I read my cousin’s blog, I knew what kind of illnesses they faced out there. I knew about the struggles, the hardships, and the stressors that my parents would experience. I knew I did not want them to go.

Beyond just being worried about their safety and health, (they are in their fifties for Pete’s sake, how many people enter the mission field for West Africa at fifty?) I was also just plain angry at them. I know it was selfish and immature and totally wrong of me but I was angry at them for leaving me. Yeah I lived across the country in Tennessee but that was normal. The kid is supposed to grow up and leave home, not the other way around. The parents are not supposed to move all their stuff out to the kid’s place and then leave the country. In my mind, I was getting left and I felt abandoned. I went out last summer to help them move and as I settled into the U-Haul to drive out to Collegedale, Tennessee I looked in the rearview mirror and knew that it was my last glimpse of having a home.

Home had been where ever my parents were. Tillamook was my first and only true home because after we moved to Clarkston, I left to go to school. I had never really lived there but I called it home because that was where my parents were and that is where my stuff was and that is where I went when school was out. Now my parents were going to somewhere I had never been, the homey things were getting left with me or sold, and I would not have anywhere to go to on vacations. I had always had a home, and now I didn’t. The life I knew and loved was gone. No more summer boating on the river, no more winter walnut cracking by the fire, no more produce fresh from mom’s prodigious garden, no more games of pool, no more lazy afternoons in the hammock, even my dog was gone.

Over time I have mostly gotten past this. I’ve lost the sarcasm when I would reply to the question “Wow your parents are missionaries! How awesome is that?” My parents and I have worked out ways to communicate so that we can keep in touch fairly well and for that I am eternally grateful. I am used to saying my parents live in Tchad and have my script prepared for the responses, “Yes I am proud; no I have never been there; no I am not an MK; yes it is hot there; yes I do miss them; no I will not be going over to live there and work with them after graduation; do you not understand what a high school science teacher does? They don’t work in mission hospitals!” Ok the last one is internal but I can’t believe how many people I have to address this with.

My parents live in Tchad. They will be there for five years. The roles are reversed and I am now where they come when they come home. This is reality and I can’t change any of it. So I decided to bite the bullet and come out to Tchad and see what their new home is like. I have been here for almost a month and I have seen a lot of bizarre things and done a lot of things I really should not be doing and learned that there are a lot things I can’t do that I really wish I could. But above all I have watched my parents.

Because of my mom, I have seen people walking again and walking normally. A house is getting put together that will be a really great place. Plans are being made and implemented for a food distribution program, God Pods, and a patient library. She’s the first to admit that she doesn’t know what she is doing, but she is doing amazing things. The face of a patient when they realize that they will be able to walk again is unbelievable and the way she works with the amputee patients pushing them to discover that they can get past the loss and they will be OK is inspiring.

In surgery my dad cuts, clamps, and sutures nameless anatomy that is so mangled I would never have identified it as human. People come into the OR with unbelievable problems, swellings the size of footballs, limbs bending to 90 ͤ in places that they really shouldn’t, bones poking out several inches, or cancers so advanced that it looks like some alien disease from Star Trek has possessed this person. People leave the OR pieced back together or without the part of their body that is trying to kill them. Not everyone lives here and since I have been here at least five of my dad’s patients have died but everyone who goes into his office or under his knife has more hope of survival and wellbeing than they did before. He was not trained as an orthopod or an oncologist or a urologist or many of the other hats he must wear but here he has learned to be all these things and for so many people he is their only chance.

In my one month that I have had here I have done a lot and learned a lot. And I have made a lot of starteling realizations. But of them all one stands out as the most important: Realization #3, I may miss my parents, my old life, and my home, but Tchad is where my parents are because Tchad needs them, and I could not be more proud.

-Lindsay Gardner

For those of you new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year, and the “Video” page has a video Bekki made of Koza Hospital as well as the videos she has made of Moundou. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. You will also find links to other missionary blogs such as Olen and Danae Netteburg, Jaime and Tammy Parker and others. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us. For our Francophone friends there is a French translation of our blog that you can find at http://gardnersenafrique.wordpress.com.

We welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner